Schu Strings: Time for O'Hara?

The Arizona football team has made overtures toward a mass youth movement. Some by design, some by necessity. But a piece of the puzzle is missing. Is it time for the UA to give freshman quarterback Ryan O'Hara some on-field action?

With six games left in the season, Arizona is pretty much right where prognosticators figured, standing at 3-3 overall and staring up at the rest of the conference after opening league play against perennial powers Oregon and Washington. With two early league losses and the team's rash of injuries, it is hard to imagine a rapid turnaround leading to a big push toward the top of the Pac-10.

With that in mind, perhaps playing O'Hara is a big step toward preparing for the program's future. There are two schools of thought in regards to the UA's quarterback situation in regards to O'Hara, and both have valid aspects. The UA coaches naturally want a player with the opportunity to be in the mix for four seasons, hoping that by the time he's an upperclassman, he'll be among the top signal callers in the conference, and perhaps the country. Washington has been largely effective in this approach with the likes of Cody Pickett, who has put up monster numbers in the passing game in his second full season at the helm.

I belong in the other camp, and pretty much have all season. I'm a believer the quarterback spot is the most important position on offense. If you have a marginal receiving game, it's going to hurt, but you can do things to move the football to some degree. If you lack talent at the running back position, it certainly hampers a team's balance, but there are ways to get other players involved.

But if you don't have a quarterback who can throw the football, defenses can pretty much stack the line with 11 and dare you to come up with something. Unless you run the option like Air Force or the old Nebraska teams, that something is probably the offensive version of a chalk outline.

I tend to be a believer in the value of experience. I'm a believer the best way to understand, to prepare for, what's coming in the Pac-10 is to get in the game and find out. O'Hara has not had that opportunity.

Earlier in the season, Arizona gave the No. 2 quarterback job to Nic Costa, the option-style lefty who conjures comparisons to Keith Smith. Costa even got some action. A curious decision given the likelihood O'Hara is the team's quarterback of the future. Costa did not make the trip to Washington due to an injury (this year's team theme), but Arizona opted instead for walk-on Adam Austin in one-play situations in case of an injury to starter Jason Johnson, viewing O'Hara as a last-ditch outlet if dire circumstances dictated.

To me, here's what Arizona is saying. We know O'Hara is going to take his lumps as a freshman next season, which means the team as a whole will hopefully show improvement, but to expect much more than .500 might be asking quite a bit. In 2004, the UA should be better. It should be a great deal more competitive. The youth that got playing time this year has a greater opportunity to mature, and additionally it's a chance for members of the John Mackovic recruiting classes to start to shine.

But sophomore quarterbacks don't win the Pac-10. Hasn't happened in years. So the Cats aren't aiming for 2003. They're not really even aiming for 2004. They hope to have the pieces in place by 2005, and want to compound that with a four-year starter in 2006. Certainly not a bad strategy if looking specifically at the quarterback position. But if the team doesn't have a strong backup by then anyway, it hasn't made steps as a program.

I would suggest getting a jump on some of those mistakes by running the offense at least a couple series a game for the remainder of the season. Don't get me wrong. O'Hara is not the best quarterback in this system right now. Johnson is, and as such, Johnson should start and see the majority of the reps.

Other schools are looking at the future. Stanford has gone to a youth movement at quarterback in light of shaky efforts by senior Chris Lewis. Oregon State played Derek Anderson for a set number of series last season as a backup to senior Jonathan Smith. Now a first-year starter, Anderson came out of the gates like a ball of fire but has bogged down significantly since. However, he will likely be ahead of the curve next year. Colorado State is doing the same thing, and it led to a loss against Fresno State.

At 3-3, Arizona is in a position where it probably needs to make a concerted effort toward future improvement. A bowl bid is unquestionably possible. A quick breakdown of the season that remains suggests likely losses to Washington State and UCLA. That's five setbacks overall. It should beat Stanford, and it could down Oregon State, Cal and ASU, but 2-2 in that group seems just as plausible.

The UA has its work cut out for it for a post-season appearance this year. But it can get another jump on its future by inserting O'Hara at the most important position on the field.

The general election is three weeks away. For those who live in Arizona, my condolences, for this year we have been cursed with the dirtiest group of gubernatorial candidates I can recall. I'm not naïve enough anymore to embrace the belief campaigns will ever be run on issues, and issues alone, but this year there's more mud than an old Hohokam settlement.

It started with democrat Janet Napolitano, who finds herself in a neck and neck race with republican Matt Salmon. Napolitano launched the first salvo, a series of television and radio ads painting Salmon as a lobbyist for corporate interests during his stay in Congress. It's typical democrat fare, but usually it's the type of stuff candidates save for late in the game. Give her credit, at least she tipped her hand from the get-go. Her entire campaign has been Matt Salmon is bad, as opposed to Napolitano is good because…

Then Napolitano was upset, and made accusations in Salmon's direction, for a telemarketing campaign that painted her as a supporter of gay rights at the expense of children. Turns out it wasn't Salmon, but the real nutball in this whole thing, wildcard independent Dick Mahoney.

I've lived in Arizona a long time. I grew up in Prescott, where one-time congressman Sam Steiger, in a fit of drunken rage, decided to take it upon himself to paint a crosswalk along historic Whiskey Row. I grew up in the state that elected Evan Mecham, after six failed attempts at the office. I grew up in the state that elected Fife Symington. Twice.

This group could favorably apply for sainthood when compared to Mahoney. At first, I thought Mahoney was pretty entertaining. He was always pissed off, and his billboards were a hoot. "Independent…Just Like You." I'm an independent sort. I can dig that. He initially ran on a platform of removing tax loopholes. Seems like a responsible enough approach in a state that is nothing short of a budget debacle. But somewhere along the line his tactics switched. It was his campaign that was behind the Napolitano gay rights telemarketing smear effort. It's his campaign that carried that to television, with an unintelligible commercial about child molesters.

And it's his campaign that is now running a TV ad featuring a woman from Colorado City who calls the child abuse situation in that fringe community worse than Waco, apparently attempting to compare Napolitano with her Janet counterpart, former US Attorney General Reno. At least I think it's an apparent attempt since the ad borders on incomprehensible. Colorado City is a small town on the Utah border best known for practicing polygamy. A freaky place certainly, but now a central issue in a gubernatorial campaign for the first time.

In an effort to push his cause, Mahoney himself is promoting this website: To date, all Mahoney's smear ads have been directed at Napolitano. This makes Salmon appear the cleanest of the lot, although he has retaliated with anti-Napolitano counter strikes. But for the most part, the Salmon ads feature his family and Senator John McCain talking about the former Congressman's integrity, based on Salmon living up to his term limits pledge (which seems ironic coming from McCain, who in the past has made the same overtures, but has somehow remained in office).

Still, there's something about Salmon that rubs me wrong, as if he's really nothing more than a walking political catchphrase for the day. His fundraising wing is called Our Children's Future. Not Matt Salmon for Governor. Our Children's Future. How trite is that?

And besides, this is the guy who wanted Ronald Reagan's face added to Mount Rushmore. I don't have any great issues with the former President, but in my book any talks of adding a mug to the big rock (which can't be done anyway because of the formation of the mountain) should begin and end with FDR.

As recently as two days ago, I was all set to vote for the Libertarian, for no other reason than that individual doesn't have the money to run offensive, frustrating TV commercials. Then I was informed about a newspaper ad in the Arizona Daily Wildcat featuring a bikini-clad woman posing something like Princess Leah in Star Wars. I really need to study this puppy further. Since I haven't seen it, it's hard to comment, but perhaps the Libertarians are going after the frat crowd. I guess that's as good a demographic as carrying Colorado City. Or rather, losing Colorado City by a landslide.

At this rate, I might be forced to vote for Brad Allis.

[I'm as good as anyone. At least you'd have a UA grad in the Govenor's Mansion.--Brad]

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